After the Wave Pt. 3: The Future of Urban Living

The greater Tokyo area is the world's most populated metropolitan region and its people is looking to lead the world in developing an urban model that's self-sustainable and resilient to disasters.

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by Megan Mazurek
by Video Editing: Jared Mazurek

TOKYO, Japan -- Japan’s population boasts nearly 130 million people and about 27 percent of those live in the great Tokyo area. It’s by far the world’s most populated metropolitan region topping places like Seoul, South Korea, Mexico City and New York.

The city of Tokyo has benefited from urban life but also realized its fragility in the face of the 2011 earthquake. It’s striving to become a low carbon city by developing communities resilient to disaster.

Sky rises and shopping malls in Kashiwanoha blend into the urban setting of the area. But they’re not ordinary by a long shot. The smart city is developing community located 15 miles from central Tokyo.

It’s an example of a self-sustainable city using renewable resources and local agriculture to promote health and longevity of its people. Solar panels line the roofs of apartments and offices. Geothermal heat is used for air conditioning and all home appliances and light are designed to save energy.

Becoming a member does have its perks, residents share electric bikes
and vehicles.

While the Smart City is a leap toward self-reliance and energy security, there are other renewable projects underway north of Kashiwanoha.
The Shirakawa wood power station uses organize material like wood chips to provide up to 10,000 kilowatts a day for the surrounding area and run entirely from its own energy generation.

A truck dropped off chips from Soma, and many are likely made from the tsunami debris. Officials with the bio mass plant say wood chips coming the Fukushima Prefecture increased by 20 percent. The plant checks all wood chips for radiation before burning.

"We are making a good contribution for the forest industry, it needs revival and so far it has been quite slow and we are burning and recycling the forest,” said Ms. SEKINE Wakako, PR Shirakawa Wood Power. “The wood chips are creating room for growth. "

Self-sufficient and self-reliable, it’s a model the city of Tokyo intends to use.

The metropolitan area depends entirely on TEPCO for its electricity needs, and the Tokyo government has made it clear they want less dependency on nuclear as vulnerabilities of the current system were exposed during the 2011 earthquake.

Tokyo was also largely affected by the disaster so we are working to establish a stable power supply and reducing energy consumption,” said FUJIMOTO Makoto, Director of Urban Energy Promotion. “In Tokyo we had scheduled power reduction to see how much energy could be saved. We did this because we cannot rely entirely on TEPCO. Tokyo needs to produce locally energy to be consumed locally. "

The goal is for Tokyo to have 300,000 homes using solar panels by 2020, a reachable goal following the people’s apparent eagerness to move away from nuclear and save energy. During a testing trial period, a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption was achieved.

"People removed florescent and incandescent lights and switched to LED lights at their homes and offices,” Fujimoto said. “Older appliances were replaced with lower energy consuming one. To avoid the peak usage hours, people adjusted and made do. The Tokyo government may have initiated the reduction, but the Tokyo people embraced it."

Only 2 reactors remain running, providing electricity for Japan. Each plant must meet the newly established safety standard by the Regulatory Commission to go back online.

In the meantime, the country is supplementing nuclear by importing oil and natural gas at a price tag of 4 trillion yen a year, a big chunk of change on top of a deflating yen.

"The hope is more in gas because the shale gas revolution in the U.S. and Canada,” said TANAKA Nobou, Institute of Energy Economics. “That helps a lot."

Within the next year Japan’s energy policy will become clearer, until then Mr. Tanaka says gas will be a very important source for Japan. “There's a big expectation to have LNG from the United States.”

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Auntie said on Friday, Feb 22 at 1:10 PM

Wish my Tokyo apt building would embrace solar panels. Oh, and burning Soma tsunami debris may not be the brightest idea. Do they reliably test it? Probably not. Tsunami debris is not clean, but a mess of building wastes and potential radioactivity. No doubt the Kashiwanohana board was well reimbursed. Otherwise, great and inspiration story. Wish it were the norm, not the exception.

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